The Indiana Judicial Conference unveiled a long-term strategic plan to improve the Indiana system of justice. “This is our roadmap for the future,” explained Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. “It is a set of priorities that will allow us to improve the professionalism, efficiency, and effectiveness of the Indiana Judiciary.” The plan was presented to approximately five hundred judges in attendance at the annual September Judicial conference and adopted by the Board of Directors of the Indiana Judicial Conference.
The mission of the strategic plan is to improve Indiana’s justice system by assisting with the resolution of disputes under the rule of law while protecting individual rights and liberties in a fair, impartial, equally accessible, prompt, professional, and efficient manner. To achieve that goal, a Strategic Planning Committee made up of judges gathered valuable input from judges across the state. Starting in December 2008 the Committee held fifteen meetings across Indiana which all judges were invited to attend. The resulting 27 page document is a blueprint for excellence that details the Judiciary’s shared vision for the future.
“The Indiana courts must set priorities to use limited resources wisely,” explained Chief Justice Shepard who appointed Judges Terry Shewmaker of the Elkhart Circuit Court and Mark Stoner of the Marion Superior Court as Co-Chairs of the Committee. Both judges point to Indiana’s complex court system as evidence change is needed. Judge Shewmaker said, “For example, just explaining the jurisdiction of each Indiana court is difficult. It should be clear and easy to understand for our citizens.” Judge Stoner made the same observation and explained, “We have duplication of efforts and inefficiencies that cost taxpayers money and should be streamlined or eliminated.” The strategic plan calls for creating a 21st century court structure for the judicial branch.
The new court system will be designed to eliminate gaps in jurisdiction, more efficiently use judicial resources, provide equal access to the courts and promote local cooperation. The following are specific areas identified for improvement:
- Judicial Education: Increase the continuing legal education requirements for judges and develop minimum standards for court staff.
- Simplify Court Structure: Organize courts into administrative districts where all trial courts have the same jurisdiction. Incorporate city, town and township small claims courts into the trial courts.
- Court Funding: Provide state funding for courts and court related services.
- Consolidation of Clerk Court Functions: Reassign certain court-related clerk duties, like record keeping, to the trial courts. Create an opportunity for clerks to become professional court administrators. The Office of the Clerk would continue to supervise elections, issue marriage licenses, and collect money.
- Uniform Judicial Selection: Reduce the seven different methods of selecting trial court judges in the state to a uniform system.
Distributing resources across the state more equitably is a key component of the strategic plan. Because the state currently pays for some salaries and court programs and county councils pay for other salaries and programs court funding varies from county to county. The strategic plan calls for state funding of the trial courts in order to allocate resources fairly. Three studies are being conducted to determine the impact of funding changes. Figures are not yet available. Like the overall strategic plan, the goal of modernizing court funding is a reform designed to benefit citizens.
The Division of State Court Administration and the Indiana Judicial Center provided staff support to this effort. The Strategic Planning Committee is made up of the following judges who encourage continued discussion of the ideals set forth in the strategic plan:
John G. Baker, Chief Judge, Indiana Court of Appeals
J. Terrence Cody, Floyd Circuit Court
Thomas J. Felts, Allen Circuit Court
Frances C. Gull, Allen Superior Court
Peggy L. Quint Lohorn, Montgomery Superior Court #2
Terry C. Shewmaker, Elkhart Circuit Court, Committee Co-Chair
Mark D. Stoner, Marion Superior Court, Committee Co-Chair
Marianne L. Vorhees, Delaware Circuit Court
Mary G. Willis, Henry Circuit Court
Certain aspects of the plan are ready to be implemented, especially those dealing with education and training. Other aspects will require more specific implementation planning from all our partners including clerks, lawmakers, judges, bar associations, local government officials and interested citizens. “A New Way Forward: The Strategic Planning Committee’s White Paper” can be found online at www.in.gov/judiciary/center/files/strategic-white-paper.pdf.